Penning happiness



Would you like to make someone you care about happy and increase your happiness in the process? If so, write a gratitude letter to someone special in your life. The effect can leave you and the recipient feeling happier for weeks, even months. 


Last year I wrote and shared a gratitude letter with my Dad, who is now 91 and in and out of the hospital weekly. Am I glad I did it, YES!  Was it the easiest thing I ever did? NO! Was it one of the most rewarding, YES!

I’ve been writing retrospective thank you notes for years. I’ve written lots of cards to my aunts and to family friends of my parents for their special acts of kindness to me as a child. One of my younger brother’s god-mothers always brought a few of us close to his age (there are 9 kids in our family) treats on the holidays when she brought him a gift. One of my aunts hosted weekly gatherings at her and my uncle’s rural “resort” each Sunday in the summer; my siblings and I were able to swim, dive, jump, ride, row, fish and enjoy all sorts of other summer fun because my aunt and uncle were willing to put-up with an ongoing stream of guests. Those Sundays were magic to me as a kid, and I wanted her to know. More sweet memories – my godmother and her grown daughter took me shopping and to lunch during the holiday season and let me, within a specific price range, select my gift. I loved those trips.

Those letters and the memories they evoked were wonderful, but a gratitude letter is even a better way to say thank you. Here’s why:

  • It’s longer – shoot for 300 words.
  • It’s read in-person to its intended, making it more of a gratitude visit with the letter as a hostess gift of sorts. The true magic of the visit comes from sharing your letter out loud and face-to-face with its recipient.

Tips for making it work:

  • Write to someone, who did something nice or kind for you, but is someone you’ve never thanked.
  • Be detailed. Write specifically what you are thankful for. Include the whats, the whens, the hows and the whys.
  • Let your recipient know you are up to something good! Dr. Martin P. Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology and one of the first and strongest proponents of gratitude visits notes the ritual is powerful,  ”Everyone cries when you do a gratitude visit,” he says. ”It’s very moving for both people.” A funny thing happened when I read my letter to my Dad. When I finished, he made a timid joke about how I must have the wrong “Dad”, and then he told me he thought I was going to share something about what he’d done wrong – not right. I was nervous about sharing my letter, and he interpreted that as seriousness or sadness. Then when I began reading from a sheet of paper he was sure there was bad news ahead. We laughed about that, but to prevent any confusion, letting your host or hostess know the visit is well-intentioned is probably a good idea.
  • Leave a copy of your letter with your recipient. Don’t worry about making it too fancy, but using special paper or laminating can’t hurt. A frame might seem a bit much – go with your guts. Just don’t make the visit too much about what happens next with the letter; leave that up to your receiver.

Happiness is contagious.

Another interesting facet of this simple and effective gesture is that it tends to grow and reproduce on its own.  Recipients often end-up writing and sharing letters with folks they want to thank, and writers tend to write more letters to share with others. Sometime soon, I will share with you one of the most touching responses I received from a friend with whom I shared a gratitude visit. Just thinking about it makes me happy, and it happened almost a year ago!

Increased happiness for you and someone you care about is just a few pen strokes. Don’t let this free,  foolproof opportunity for joy pass you by – get started on a gratitude letter today!

WTW Dandelion


  1. Thanks, Diane. I’m glad it brought up sweet memories.

    I like your idea about writing the letter to your step father, and was thinking there might be someone, who would still enjoy hearing it. I had lunch with one of my cousins, who I had lost touch with, recently and I told him his Mom had been my favorite Aunt, and he told me my Mom had been his favorite! We had fun exchanging stories. Really enjoyed seeing my Mom through his eyes.


  2. When you mentioned your dad, it made me think of my stepfather, who also always had music playing with installed speakers throughout the house or outside. He also installed the biggest speakers ever for me in my room when I was a teenager. It might be why I’m a little hard of hearing now! 😉 However, I just realized I could also write a gratitude letter to loved ones who are no longer with me. My stepfather died seven years ago. What a truly wonderful tool to reconnect to the people we love and to those whose memories we carry forever. I know he would have been tickled pink and so touched by it. Thank you for posting this!


  3. This was written soley as a way to get you to write to me!

    So funny that my Dad was worried! My love of music, reading and all things business come from him. Each Sunday morning there was music playing. He installed speakers behind cloth painted panels in our living room, so the music seemed to be coming from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. It was pretty darn cool.


  4. What a wonderful idea! Where’s my letter? hehe. Just kidding.

    Love the story about you reading it to your dad. You are a very brave woman.


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